Background: BCR-ABL1-positive ALL is the most frequent and prognostically most unfavorable subtype of adult ALL. The main reason for the poor clinical outcome of BCR-ABL1-positive ALL is genetic instability. However, how normal B-cell precursor cells acquire the genetic changes that lead to transformation and progression has not been completely defined. Activation-induced cytidine deaminase (AID) produces immunediversity by inducing somatic hypermutations and class-switch recombinations in human immunoglobulin genes (Ig).

Aim: Since at much lower frequency AID can also target non-Ig genes and may even act as a genome-wide mutator, we investigated whether AID was expressed in BCR-ABL1-positive ALL and in chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) at the time of progression to blast crisis.

Patients and methods: We analyzed 61 adult de novo Ph+ ALL patients (pts) and 60 CML pts (chronic phase and myeloid/lymphoid blast crisis). AID cDNA, obtained from bone marrow or peripheral blood, was amplified with two pairs of oligonucleotides, the forward primer of each couple conjugated with a fluorescent dye (fluorescein) at its 5′ end. PCR products were then loaded on the ABI Prism 3730 DNA Analyzer for automated capillary gel electrophoresis and the results were plotted with the AbiPrism GeneMapper v3.5 software (Applied Biosystems).

Results: On the 61 de novo adult BCR-ABL1-positive ALL pts, AID mRNA and protein were detected in 41 (67%). AID expression correlated with the BCR-ABL1 transcript levels and disappeared after treatment with tyrosine kinase inhibitors at the time of remission. Moreover, AID expression was also found in lymphoid blast crisis CML (60%), but not in myeloid lineage or in chronic phase CML. Different isoforms of AID were expressed. In 10/61 (16%) BCR-ABL1-positive ALL pts the full-length isoform (GeneBank accession number NM_020661) was identified, in 16/61 (26%) the co-expression of the wild-type isoform and of different AID splice variants was found and in 15/61 (25%) only the expression of splice variants was found. These can result from retention of intron 4 (Variant A), omission of exon 4 (Variant B) and 3 (Variant C), and from a deletion of 30 bp in the initial portion of exon 4 (Variant D). In the wild-type mRNA, codon 148 spans exons 3 and 4. In both variants A and B, mRNA splicing disrupts this codon and causes a frameshift, which results in a premature stop codon. If translated, the splice variants produce truncated proteins of 187 and 145 amino acids, respectively. However, the putative deaminase active site, encoded by exon 3, is preserved in both splice variants, but is lacking in the variant C. Since enforced expression of Pax5 induces endogenous AID gene expression, we analyzed the expression levels of Pax5 in all pts (ΔΔCt method, GAPDH as control gene). As expected, we found a very strong difference (p<0.0001) between chronic phase CML and BCR-ABL1-positive ALL, but total Pax5-transcripts did not differ significantly when BCR-ABL1-positive ALL/AID+ and BCR-ABL1-positive ALL/AID were compared. To investigate whether AID introduces DNA-single strand breaks in BCR-ABL1-positive ALL, we performed a genome wide analysis by 250K NspI single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) array (Affymetrix Inc., USA). We identified a region of high level amplification and homozygous deletion in all patients. Patients who expressed wild-type AID had a higher number of alterations compared to AID-negative patients (median copy number alteration of 14, range 5–27, versus 4, range 1–6, respectively, p<0.03). Recurring copy number abnormalities were identified in genes with an established role in leukemogenesis, such as IKZF1, CDKN2A, CDKN2B, PAX5, MELK, BTG1 and MDS1. AID consensus motifs (DGYW/WRCH) were mapped very close to the breakpoint cluster regions.

Conclusions: Our findings show that BCR-ABL1-positive ALL cells aberrantly express different isoforms of AID that can act as a mutator outside the Ig gene loci in promoting genetic instability in leukemia cells.

Disclosures: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Supported by: European LeukemiaNet, AIL, AIRC, FIRB 2006, Fondazione del Monte di Bologna e Ravenna, Strategico di Ateneo, GIMEMA Onlus.

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